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Northwestern-Michigan State preview: Opponent Q&A with The Only Colors

Our friends over at MSU’s SBNation blog helped us out by answering a few questions!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Northwestern at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Spartans come into Saturday’s Big Ten opener at 2-1 after a disappointing home loss to Arizona State last week. MSU will enter Ryan Field with revenge on their mind, trying to halt a three-game losing streak against the Wildcats in their first road trip of the season. For more on Michigan State, McLain Moberg of The Only Colors joined us to discuss all things green and white:

INU: How is morale in East Lansing after last week? Where is the blame being placed for the loss?

TOC: It depends on who you ask. The fanbase is certainly irate. I’ve never seen MSU twitter blow up the way it did after the loss to Arizona State. The blame has been spread out, but fans are mostly upset with the coaching staff. A win this weekend, and a competent offense on the road may be enough to provide them with a sense of optimism.

INU: Is the MSU run defense better than it was last year? Is that even possible?

TOC: On defense, the Spartans return eight starters from a unit that finished No. 1 in rushing defense (77.9 ypg). Five of the eight returning starters played in all 13 games last season (LB Joe Bachie, S David Dowell, DT Mike Panasiuk, NT Raequan Williams, and DE Kenny Willekes).

The rush defense is formidable AGAIN for obvious reasons. It’s no secret this has been an all-time defense for Michigan State. Are they better than last year? I can’t definitively make that statement, but they are pretty close. MSU is currently ranked No. 2 through the first three games in 2019, allowing a total of 70 yards rushing (23.3 ypg). Stopping the run has been a theme under Mark Dantonio. In 161 games, the Spartans have held opponents under 100 yards rushing 83 times. They are 70-13 in those contests.

INU: Is the pass defense vulnerable?

TOC: Yes, the pass defense can be vulnerable. MSU has been gashed a couple of times so far this season (in terms of big plays). One play last week comes to mind when Josh Butler stumbled, and ASU completed a 40-yard pass into the red zone. Unfortunately for Spartan fans, the Sun Devils scored on the same drive, taking the lead 10-7 with 50 seconds left.

Or how a roughing the passer call on Kenny Willekes resulted in Tulsa’s only touchdown, which also happened to be through the air. Even so, the Spartans are ranked third in the nation for total defense. They are allowing 3.77 yards per play and 216 yards per game.

INU: Who are some new players on the scene to look out for defensively?

TOC: Fans should look out for guys like CB Kalon Gervin, CB Shakur Brown (who hasn’t played the last two weeks), and S Xavier Henderson. Through three games Xavier has 16 tackles and one interception, while Brown has three tackles and two sacks (he’s only played in the home opener).

INU: How important has the loss of Felton Davis been to the offense? Are they, and Lewerke in particular, worse than last year or about at the same level?

I wouldn’t label the offense as worse. The loss of Felton Davis is vast, but it’s my belief they’ve improved. I get it, MSU has scored 14 points outside of demolishing a terrible Western Michigan defense. It might seem like the same offense from 2018, but it’s not. The Spartans gained 23 first downs and a total of 404 yards of offense against ASU, which is something that wasn’t happening last year during losses. Does the production feel a bit hollow because of the lack of points? Yes, but they also crossed midfield nine times.

Again, fans are right to point their fingers at the scoreboard. I’m merely making the case they’ve improved and need to take the next step. Right now, it happens to be finishing drives. Before it was moving the ball with any consistency at all.

INU: Have Michigan State fans developed some sort of purple-fueled pathology after three straight losses to Northwestern? How glad are they to see Clayton Thorson gone?

Nobody likes to lose three times in a row to the same team. It’s been tough on Spartan fans because like anyone else they want to win. I’m not sure it’s been made personal, or there’s some level of animosity towards Northwestern or their fans, it’s just about ending the streak the Wildcats currently have on MSU.

Clayton Thorson had some great games against Michigan State and naturally, the fan base isn’t complaining about him not being there any longer. Although, they are more focused on winning this weekend than reminiscing about losing three in a row to NW.

INU: Finally, what is your game prediction?

The Spartans get their redemption against the Wildcats.

MSU 17, NU 7